Although fairly commonplace now, there was a time when a luxury SUV would’ve seemed like an oxymoron. With the Wagoneer, Jeep breathed new life into the world of rugged, 4WD types. They took them off the trail, parking them comfortably in garages until they were ready to answer the call of the wild—or the call of a family heading to Disneyland. Throughout its years, the Wagoneer has been ahead of the curve—an exemplary version of what an SUV could be. Spanning from the first Wagoneer in 1963 to the latest and greatest 2023 Grand Wagoneer L, the timeline of the world’s first luxury SUV is nothing short of impressive.
1963: The Pioneer Wagoneer
The Wagoneer’s legacy began in 1963, when it debuted as the successor to the Willys Wagon, whose run ended after a span of about two decades. What set the Wagoneer apart wasn’t its 4WD or generous cargo space—competitors had their own versions of capable wagons on the market—but the versatility it brought to the table. Its 140-hp “Tornado” inline-6 was equally at home on the highway or bumpy backroads. Features like independent front suspension and automatic transmission meant it could reasonably be used as a family car, while competitors that also had 4WD were more utilitarian.
1966: The Super Wagoneer
The 1966 Super Wagoneer hinted at the opulence of the SUV’s future. By this time, the Wagoneer was offered with a 5.4-L V8, which came standard with the upscale Super. It had visual distinction with a wider grille and shimmery, metallic accents. Other standard features included power steering, air conditioning, and roof racks. The Super Wagoneer expanded on the luxury market, bringing it to the rough and rugged world of 4WD vehicles and appealing to a previously ignored segment of the market.
1970: AMC Ownership
In 1970, American Motor Corporation (AMC) purchased Jeep Kaiser Corporation (formerly Willys Motors). AMC got to work refining the Wagoneer to expand its appeal. They introduced the iconic Quadra-Trac transfer case, which is always engaged so drivers don’t have to manually shift into 4WD with locking hubs. AMC made the ride all-around smoother and switched up styling, as well. They were the first to pair wood paneling with the Wagoneer and revamp the grille, changing it to a plastic “egg-crate” grille opposed to the metal grille with vertical grates. AMC also introduced the Jeep Cherokee, which at its debut was derived from the two-door version of the Wagoneer.
1984: The Cherokee
Right around this time, the Wagoneer-born Jeep Cherokee was making huge waves, earning its place as one of the most impressive SUVs of all time. The Wagoneer was forced to forfeit its namesake to the Cherokee XJ, which became the moniker for its top-of-the-line trim level. The SJ platform Wagoneer was renamed to Grand Wagoneer, and continued to quietly find itself in the hands of well-to-do adventurers.
1987: Chrysler Ownership
In 1987, ownership of the Jeep line changed yet again when Chrysler acquired AMC. They left the bones of the Grand Wagoneer largely untouched, but refined several elements throughout the vehicle to give it more refinement and lasting power. The Grand Wagoneer would continue to thrive under Chrysler’s light-handed leadership, until several shocks to the car market shifted the priorities of the American car buyer. A spike in oil prices in 1990 unilaterally served as the writing on the wall for gas-guzzling vehicles everywhere—the Grand Wagoneer being no exception. Sales of the world’s first luxury SUV plummeted, until its discontinuation in 1991.
1993: The Jeep Grand Cherokee Wagoneer
Fortunately, the Wagoneer nameplate wasn’t in retirement for long, resurfacing again as the top trim level for the 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It packed a punch with its 5.2-L V8 that output 220 hp. It also came with a leather interior and, of course, wood paneling. The short-lived revival ended just one year later, when the trim was dropped from Cherokee’s lineup. Thus, the Wagoneer brand settled into a dormancy that would last for decades.
2020: Concept Wagoneer
In September 2020, years of Wagoneer whisperings were realized when Stellantis unveiled the Grand Wagoneer concept vehicle. True to its roots, the new Grand Wagoneer was slated to be an SUV for the exclusive end of the market—with only the finest technologies and features. It was advertised to be even roomier than its predecessor, following the announcement that the Wagoneer would include a third row for the first time.
2022: The Modern Wagoneer
The 2022 Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer were available for purchase starting in 2021. Both have price tags and features that land them in the luxury class, but the Grand Wagoneer is an even more upscale version. They hint at an inauguration of a new era of luxury off-raoding, acting as an extension of the line rather than a rung in the ladder; neither the Wagoneer nor Grand Wagoneer don a “Jeep” emblem, opting solely for their model names as elegantly-rendered labels.
A look at both vehicles’ spec lists will reveal many bests-in-class, like a 10,000-lb towing capacity, generous passenger volume, and ample cargo space. They set the bar for technology-driven performance, utilizing Jeep’s Quadra-Trac 4WD and Selec-Terrain management system, which tailors the SUVs performance to different conditions.
The Wagoneer is powered by a 5.7-L V8 that gets 392 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque. The Grand Wagoneer gets a 6.4-L V8 good for 470 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque; a 510-hp Hurricane 3.0-L twin-turbo inline-6 is also available for the Grand Wagoneer. The Grand Wagoneer ups the ante further with an ultra-premium interior comprised of leather, suede, and real walnut—and offered in color themes such as Blue Agave Hero and Global Black. Adding to the maxed-out-high-brow interior of the Grand Wagoneer are seats that seem to defy all logic with 24-way power controls. Oh, and they massage, too.
2023: The L
The Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are already big, but Wagoneer is going larger than life with the introduction of the Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L. They’ll offer all the same extravagance, but in an even bigger package. Both models extend by 7” at the wheelbase and 12” in length, creating more cargo space. Since more car necessitates more engine, both the Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L will come standard with the twin-turbocharged Hurricane inline-6. There may be more luxury features revealed for this expanded version when it premieres in summer 2022.
The Timeline Continues
For years, the Wagoneer has paired luxury and capability, putting the best of both worlds in the hands of affluent drivers—in the form of a leather-wrapped, power-tilting steering wheel. What’s more, Jeep has repeatedly set a new bar, inviting manufacturers to the challenge of creating a car that doesn’t feel like a compromise. It’s not difficult to spot the ripples of the Wagoneer’s legacy in today’s loaded lineup of luxury SUVs. The latest installments to the family name represent a new beginning, revolutionizing just how good an SUV can get.
When you boil it down, though, it’s not so much a fresh start off the line but another milestone breezily set. In reality, the newest iterations have simply been passed a baton that the very first Wagoneer started carrying 40 years ago.